Friday, March 16, 2012

Believed He Was Just To The Last

Abolitionist Aaron Dwight Stevens was executed March 16th 1860 for his part in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.

Aaron Dwight Stevens was born March 15th 1831 in Lisbon, New London, Connecticut.  At sixteen he enlisted in Cushing’s Massachusetts regiment and saw service in the Mexican American War.  Latter as part of Company F of the United States 1st Dragoons, Stevens was tried for assaulting United States Major George A H Blake.  The assault was understood to have been caused by Blake’s treatment of enlisted soldiers.  Stevens was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted by President Franklin Pierce, and Stevens was sent to Leavenworth for three years hard labor.  He escaped and became the Colonel of 2nd Kansas Militia, using the name Whipple.

It was while Stevens was with the 2nd that he met John Brown on August 7th 1856 during “Bleeding Kansas”.  In 1859 Stevens was with John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.  Stevens was trapped in the engine house with Brown and several other raiders.  He thought they should use the hostages as shields and make a run for it, but Brown overruled him and they stayed in the engine house.  Stevens was sent out with Brown’s son Watson to negotiate and was shot four times.  When taken captive by militia, they thought he was dead.

Stevens’ lawyer George H Hoyt said of him that, “He's in a most pitiable condition physically, his wounds being of the most painful and dangerous character. He has now four balls in his body, two of these being about the head and neck. He bears his sufferings with grim and silent fortitude, never complaining and absolutely without hope. He is a splendid looking young fellow. Such black and penetrating eyes! Such an expansive brow! Such a grand chest and limbs! He was the best, and in fact the only man Brown had who was a good soldier besides being reliable otherwise."  Stevens made a deathbed confession, but never changed his belief that the raid on Harper’s Ferry was just.

Stevens was found guilty of treason for his part in the Harper’s Ferry raid, and for conspiring with slaves to bring on an insurrection.  One day after his 29th birthday Stevens was executed on March 16th 1860 in Charlestown, Virginia.

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